By Barney Blakeney
January 11, Reggie Burgess became chief of North Charleston Police Department. He’s spent his entire 29-year career in law enforcement with the department. And now, Burgess sees his advance to the police department’s top position as an opportunity to help the challenged agency become a more effective law enforcement tool.
Starting as a patrolman, Burgess joined the North Charleston Police Department in 1989. Over the years, Burgess climbed through the ranks and was named Assistant Chief in 2013. Since beginning as a corporal, Burgess has worked in virtually every capacity within the department. He’s worked crime prevention, as a school resource officer, as a general and narcotics investigator, and worked in the Office of Professional Standards.
In 1995, he rose to the rank of sergeant; he made lieutenant in 1999, captain in 2004, and became a deputy chief in 2007 overseeing the Special Investigations Division which included Narcotics, Traffic, Vice, Gang, Detectives in addition to working with DEA, Secret Service, ATF, and ICE task forces.
Describing his philosophy about the job, he wrote the letters ‘p,o,l’. Both the words police and politics begin with those letters, he noted. “I’m police. I’m not politics,” he explained. That’s how Burgess views himself as North Charleston police chief – as a policeman and not a politician.
In addition to his dual Bachelor’s Degrees in Criminal Justice and Sociology from Claflin University, Burgess received advanced education and training from the Southern Police Institute (SPI) and intensive training in the latest management concepts and practices used in business and government from the prestigious Senior Management Institute for Police (SMIP) and the US Secret Service Academy.
His experience and training in law enforcement make him eminently qualified to run the police department, but Burgess thinks his knowledge of North Charleston gives him an additional advantage. He grew up in the rough and tumble Union Heights community in the city’s southern district. He graduated from Bonds Wilson/North Charleston High School in 1984 and attended Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland after obtaining a full football scholarship. In 1989, Burgess decided on a career in law enforcement – a choice he made partially because he always wanted to be a S.W.A.T. team member, but most importantly because he respected the rights that every citizen is afforded and wanted to help protect those rights.
Upon being appointed police chief, Burgess said he immediately realized his time had come and that all the things that happened before had culminated to put him in sync with the city’s heartbeat.
“There are roads God wants us to travel,” Burgess surmises. He knew about citizens’ complaints against officers. He was with the department in 2000 when Edward Snowden was killed in a controversial confrontation. He had been a sergeant nearly 10 years when Asberry Wylder, accused of stealing a package of luncheon meat, was backed across Rivers Avenue’s six traffic lanes before being shot by officers. And he was assistant chief in 2015 when Officer Michael Slager shot Walter Scott in the back eight times. Burgess was there as North Charleston evolved to become the state’s third largest city and the nation’s seventh most dangerous.
Because of those experiences, he’s committed to making the department the best it can be. In 2017, the department received 12 complaints against officers. To date in 2018, it has received three complaints. Training is paramount. A lot of police officers feel underappreciated. They are scrutinized, sometimes legitimately, Burgess said, but universal training that gives the department’s 370 sworn officers the same information and skills can help them perform under the unparalleled demands of police work. He’s identified several areas on which to focus – 1) developing a five-year strategic plan, 2) reducing violent crime, 3) train, recruit and retain good officers and 4) building better community relations.
North Charleston is one of the region’s most ethnically diverse with significant Black, Hispanic and Asian communities. Despite distrust in some communities, Burgess is committed to taking a personal approach to policing. As an example of that commitment, he’s vowed to walk through communities where homicides occur in recognition of the victims.
He once was asked who will stand for the victims of homicide, 35 in North Charleston last year. Burgess’ response was that he would stand for them. He’s since conspicuously walked through the areas where subsequent homicides have occurred. He does it to show that both the victims and the officers who must investigate the crime are humans, he said.
About the controversial 2016 U.S. Justice Department review Burgess said though no report has been given, they still are working together to provide training and technical assistance. The department is a work in progress, Burgess said, but it’s working.
“We will keep doing what we do constantly and consistently. And, I’ll be out there,” he said.